How I Survived in a Lonely World
A wind howled in the golden sky as sand rippled across the hilly dunes that covered the land. Aside from the wind, no other sound graced the air hovering over the sand barren landscapes. In the sky was a white-hot orb of sunlight that shone upon the sands with a scorching will. Apart from that hot sun, nothing else surrounded it. There was only a pale orange hue that colored the sky and no clouds streaked the horizon. In fact, there was almost nothing else different and noticeable to admire apart from the golden sands themselves—except for a lone creature trudging across the sand. It was small, with pointed cat-like ears, big defined eyes, a wispy tail with a bulbous tuft of hair, and smooth fur that covered a petite body that stood on two feet. The color of the fur appeared to differ in the limbs, tail, head, and torso, but all of those colors exhibited the same weathered dullness that appeared to match the surrounding environment. The creature did not know how long it had been trekking through the desert-like ocean, but the time spent walking drove it to a great point of exhaustion.
The little creature had only been walking while hunched over, head down from exhaustion. With the rays of the sun beating on its fur and not having eaten nor drank any water, the creature feared the thought of perishing alone in the vast landscape of nothing. Just as the creature thought it was going to collapse, a tiny shadow caught its eye. The creature's eyes immediately darted up to spot a small figure standing on the top of a distant dune. Sensing an opportunity to find a person who could be of help, the little furry creature darted as fast as its tired legs could allow to the top of the dune, but once arriving at the top, found the shadowed stranger nowhere in sight. Disappointed, the little creature turned away only to find a cave in the distance further down from the dune.
Relieved at the sight of shelter, the creature proceeded to approach the cave – the creature amusingly took to sliding down the dune – and was already crawling towards the mouth of the cave. Feeling the slight tinge of moisture touching the skin below its fur, the creature was elated to spot of modest pool of water at the other end of the cave. But before it could go further, the creature suddenly felt surrounded by an air of hostility. Feeling a low unearthly growl rippling across its chilled skin, the little creature had a feeling that it was not alone. It wasn't sure what the growl belonged too, but was sure the source was something large…something dangerous…something unfriendly. Not even the little pool of water was enough to make the little furry creature try and take a drink, figuring that if it was going to die, it would rather take its chances back out in the desert than with whatever was lurking in the cave. So, with only one slight glance back at the untouched water, the little creature sifted back outside into the hot sand. It was only a matter time when the creature finally collapsed from the heat and thirst. Laying its head back down onto the sand, it closed its eyes.
Out from the darkness, the creature's eyes opened slowly, taking in the sight of not the bright sun, but the texture of what appeared to be thatch made of twigs. Swiveling its eyes over, it gazed upon the form of another creature fiddling with some things that were blocked by the stranger in front. This stranger appeared to walk on two legs, but had no fur. Instead, it was just rosy magenta skin with a head of long, smooth white hair. There were eyes of a solid red, but they did not glow. The skin on its face was pasty white. Opening its eyes wider, the furry creature lying on a stitched mat thought its host looked disgusting, but could say nothing, as the purple-skinned stranger was pouring something out of a tiny bowl into an even tinier cup. The cup was lifted to the furry creature's mouth and taking a few sips and recognizing the taste of water, the rest of the drink was gulped down with ease.
"Thank you," the furry creature gasped out, finally feeling a genuine moment of clarity. The purple-skinned and red-eyed creature looked back at its guest without much regard, but felt compelled to reply to the words of gratitude anyways.
"You're welcome," the host answered in a voice that was unmistakably feminine. After replying to the words of gratitude, she turned back to put her things away. The muffled howling of the wind was present from outside of the stitched walls of the hut that sheltered both persons. Both stayed silent for a little while, not knowing what to say, but after that long moment turned slightly tense, the guest decided to speak up.
"Where am I?" the furry creature asked.
"You're in my home," the skinned creature replied, "or at least my hut. I don't have many neighbors, you know." The furred creature's eyes slightly widened, having become more curious at the statement. "So who are you?" the skinned creature asked her guest. The furry creature was slightly startled by the upfront tone of the question, but thinking that there was nothing to lose from keeping its identity a secret, answered anyway.
"I'm Nohr," was the answer that came out. The host, still rearranging some of her belongings, made a quiet sound as though she were trying not to snort with laughter.
"Nohr? Heh, that's a boy's name!" she chuckled quietly. The furry creature scowled, having to go through the mild humiliation of having a name that didn't match her. Shaking off her brief displeasure, Nohr proceeded to try and get back on even ground with her rather unorthodox host. "So how about you?" she blurted out as though her question were a retort. "What are you called?" The purple-skinned creature wasn't at all intimidated by Nohr's outburst, having anticipated she got her riled up somehow.
"Call me Etti," the skinned creature said bluntly. After speaking, she immediately put away the last of her things before getting up and heading towards the opening in her thatched tumbleweed-like hut. Lifting up the crude cloth blocking the exit, she looked around for a few moments and then strolled out, leaving the little curtain to drape back down blocking the sunlight. Nohr did not waste time staying in her spot. Thinking herself refreshed enough to move around again, she followed Etti through the curtain and out of the tumbleweed hut.
Stepping back out into the light, Nohr came upon a valley, or at least found a number of other tumbleweed-like huts like the one she was in standing in the depression separating two sand dunes. There were quite a number of huts scattered here and there, but alarmingly, the amount of people accompanying the huts were few. Apart from seeing Etti walking upon the sand, there were only a few others: two children, another who appeared weathered and aged, and another who was the same age as Etti. Catching up to Etti, Nohr's curiosity was piqued higher than it had been a few moments before.
"Is this your home?" Nohr asked inquisitively. "Is there anyone else here?" Etti looked back at Nohr for a moment, but then turned back with a huff to head towards one of the huts. The two nearly avoided the two children chasing a ball of tangled straw being blown in the sand before reaching the next hut. Etti walked right in, while Nohr decided to just linger around the entrance. She tood for a brief moment and wold have let her mind wander if it weren't for feeling her foot hit by the straw ball. She looked down to see the straw ball batting against her foot due to being pushed by the breeze. When she looked up again, she saw the two children who were chasing it running towards her. They stopped running to look up at this bizarre new stranger who was standing before them in their village. One of the children, a boy, looked up with widened eyes and backed away slightly, The other, a girl, looked around Nohr curiously and even stepped forward a tiny bit to examine her. Nohr winced slightly as the little girl looked her up and down and even got uncomfortably closer. But then, the girl took Nohr's hand into her own two palms and held it gently, still staring in fascination. The boy was still wary and remained standing a few feet away, but then took a few steps and held his arms around his female companion. Nohr, sensing the awkward silence, leaned down and picked up the ball of straw that still sat at her feet. She tossed it into the air and watched it drift away as the breeze caught up again. Both children saw the straw ball moving away and turned around in a flash to resume chasing after it, shouting in a competitive tone as the ball danced across the slope of the dunes.
After a few seconds watching the two children running around playing their chasing game, she decided she would have a look at what was happening. She thought about peering around the curtain, but after thinking that there's no way she can do it without being caught as a snoop, decided to look through the gaps in the stitched wall instead. From what she could make out through the little holes, she saw Etti talking with her two fellow members of her kind, which were composed of the elder and the one matching Etti's age. As she tried to focus her view, she strained her ears even harder to listen to the muffled conversation taking place.
"So how did it go?" a weathered female voice droned from the elder as she asked the creature standing beside Etti. There was an initial sigh, one that sounded almost defeated, before Etti's companion made an answer.
"Not good, I'm afraid," the creatures spoke. The voice sounded like that of a young adult male. He fiddled around with an empty bag, squeezing and tugging as though he was trying to wring something out of its skin. "I was just about midway inside when he started to wake up. There wasn't enough time." The elder gave a mutual sigh when hearing this news. Pinching the space between her eyes, she stared downward for a few seconds and then looked back up to face the pair. "We'll just have to try again later." She then slumped her shoulders and then reclined on her straw mat, taking care not to pull a joint or fall down. "Can you go bring the children inside?" Both Etti and her companion turned to head outside, to which Nohr promptly turned away to look as though she wasn't spying on them at all. Etti pushed the curtain up to head out while her male partner followed behind her. As they passed, the male turned to stare at Nohr. Not stopping to think if he had seen her before, Nohr quickly turned to walk away rapidly until she caught up to Etti. She observed Etti following the shifting trails left behind by the two youngsters, making Nohr wonder if they were still chasing the little drifting tumbleweed. Wanting to break the silence but also not wanting to draw suspicion, Nohr decided she would talk to Etti again.
"So what were you talking about?" asked Nohr. Etti looked back at her slightly before giving a small sigh. Reluctantly deciding to get it over with, she answered Nohr.
"We were out on a search for more water. We came back with nothing." Etti had just about caught up to the two children. There was one boy and one girl. From the looks of it, the boy had just caught the straw ball and began telling the girl of his victory. "Storm's coming. Time to go inside," was the call Etti made to the little pair. The two of them immediately got up and headed for their hut, going as fast as their legs could carry them after playing their game across the shifting sands. Nohr looked at the direction the kids were running from and squinted her eyes across the horizon to find a billowing line of sand slowly getting bigger. It appeared to be dark brown compared to the rest of the bright desert sand reflecting the sunlight—she could only assume that there was going to be a lot of sand coming, so it was going to get dark outside. Nohr was wondering how bad the sandstorm was going to be. She had been mostly familiar with the little currents of sand that glided across the dunes beneath her feet, but she had never seen this much. She wondered how the thatched huts were able to stand for as long as they have, but her thoughts were interrupted abruptly by Etti speaking loudly into her ear.
"Hey, don't space out! Come inside with me, alright?" she beckoned Nohr back into the hut where she had just given her furry guest what little remained of her water. After getting inside, they sat down and prepared to wait for the sandstorm to pass everyone by. The wind was howling audibly even from inside the hut, though both Nohr and Etti could tell that it was a lot worse outside. Nohr winced a little when a few grains of sand blew their way into the hut through the gaps. She turned her gaze back to Etti, who was just dragging her finger listlessly in the sand.
"So, Etti, was it…those people we just saw…is that everyone?"
Etti looked up from her sand-drawing upon hearing Nohr's voice. When she looked into the furry creature's eyes, she could feel the earnestness behind her guest's curiosity. She looked back down to the sand as quickly as she looked up. "Jotu had a little sister, but she didn't get enough water," Etti spoke up lethargically. "Bestla left to get water, but she never returned. Madam Skath didn't come out of her hut for days when she heard the news."
"Wait," Nohr interjected, "Slow down. Who is Jotu? Bestla? All those names you just said? I have no idea." She wasn't sure, but she felt as though she had to state her reasons for interrupting lest Etti would return to silence and leave her in suspense. "Can you go over who's who again, please?"
Etti sighed loudly. She wondered how much longer she was going to put up with her furry acquaintance's endless questions. But she relented. After all, once she answered the questions at hand, it would be her turn to ask questions of her own. "Jotu is the male who was with me when we were talking with Madam Skath. Madam Skath is the old lady who Jotu and I just talked with. Those two kids running around in the sand are the boy and girl Ym and Fehn. Jot's little sister was Lauf and Bestla was the one who got water almost every time we went out. She's better than me and Jotu, but you know what happened to her."
Nohr was silent. Taking the time to take in all the information she had just received, Etti decided to take her turn now. "So what about you? What were you doing wandering out in the desert alone? It didn't seem smart of you to be doing that before we found you."
Nohr didn't feel too keen on answering right away. On the other hand, she took solace in the fact that she was having small talk with a stranger she had just met. Trying to soak in what life was like around the desert, Nohr wondered about what was it with Etti's kind and going out to get water. "So, when you go out for water, where do you usually find it?"
Etti felt dismayed that she was faced with another question. "We usually go out to the cave not far from here," she replied reluctantly. "Things usually go smoothly, so long as that monster doesn't complicate things."
"Hold on," Nohr interrupted again, "are you talking about the cave with that pool of water in the back?" Etti's eyes widened with surprise at the revelation that Nohr knew what she was talking about. Nohr continued, "There was this growling coming from that cave. If that's what you're talking about, it's dangerous!"
Etti wasn't having any more of it. She moved forward and got right into Nohr's face. "Wait! You've been to that cave? Did you see the monster?" Nohr was quite startled by Etti's sudden intrusion into her space.
"N-no! I didn't see this…monster!" Nohr answered as quickly as she could. "I didn't even know this cave is where you go to all the time to get your water!" She was startled by a rather furious Etti kicking something over. It scared Nohr enough to make her back away slightly She looked up timidly to see the anger in Etti's eyes, leaving her mind scrambled as to what she did wrong.
"So that's why Jotu didn't get any water today," Etti growled, "because you came along!" She turned away with a teeth-clenched huff, leaving Nohr more nervous than ever. "Thanks to you, the monster woke up and scared him away."
Nohr looked at Etti worriedly. She had just gotten to know her, and it only took a few seconds to go from friend to enemy. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't know your friend was there." Without another thought, she shakily got up from her mat and turned to the exit of the hut. "I'm sorry I made things harder for you and your friends. I guess I'll leave." But before she could step outside, she was seized by the shoulders and shoved back onto the sand in sitting position. She looked back to see that Etti was the perpetrator.
"Oh no you're not," Etti exclaimed, sounding slightly worried despite the anger remaining on her face. "The storm hasn't passed yet and you're out of your mind for even thinking you can leave in a time like this!" But she then lowered her tone until it was back to a regular indoor voice, "Besides, you're not off the hook."
Nohr only looked back at her nervously. "You're letting me stay here? But I made a mistake and cost you your day's water," she replied in a meek tone.
"Yeah, I know," Etti commented, "but you're a nice person so I'll let you make it up to me."
The wind was whispering as the dust storm finally passed and the intense winds died down. The sun was beginning to turn redder as it slowly sank beyond the horizon. From a little rock just sitting in a flat part of the sand, two pairs of eyes were peeking over, facing the entrance of the cave.
"I don't like this," Nohr whispered shudderingly. "I've only tried it once, I've never seen the monster, and I don't think I want to."
"Don't you back out now," was Etti's harsh reply in a scratchy whisper. "I'm giving you a chance to make up for costing us today's water and you're going to get it back for us." Nohr was already beginning to protest something about how this might have been too much for penance and how she would have figured something out on her own when she felt Etti pulling her by the arm. She found the determined purple-skinned creature pulling her along away from the cover of the rock until both were standing at the edge of the cave's entrance. Nohr only looked into the darkness with dread. It had not been long since she had last visited the cave. Back then, she had only been through the entrance but left as soon as she came in. It didn't take her long to remember why she didn't go for the pool of water that was in front of her. Her thoughts were again interrupted by Etti having just formed a plan. "Okay, here's what we're going to do," Etti began, "You are going to go in ahead and check if the monster is asleep."
"But…" Nohr protested.
"While you do that," Etti cut Nohr off, showing her a couple of little bags, "I'll sneak in from behind and get the water we need."
"Then we get out of here as fast as we can WITHOUT waking the monster," Etti finished her plan, leaving no room for Nohr's potential excuses. There was a slight draw of silence, as though both were now thinking of how to carry out the plan successfully…
"You say 'but' one more time…" Etti growled in Nohr's face.
"Okay, okay, let's just do this," Nohr answered as quickly as she could draw in a few extra breaths, being reminded of why she was here in the first place. She then turned to tread carefully towards the cave. She stared at the dark interior for a while, reminiscing on the fear she had not long ago. With a deep breath, she took those first steps into the darkness. It was much darker than it had been the last time she was there; after all, this was sundown and back then, there was more than enough sunlight shining through. The walls were rough and bumpy in texture and the air was still as humid as it had been, even though there wasn't very much moisture to begin with. Nohr looked to her left and right, and then tiptoed deeper into the cavern. She could feel her heart beat faster and her muscles tense even more for this was the furthest she had gone inside. At that point, she couldn't stop now, for Etti and her friends' sakes as well as her own if she was still around for Etti to give a piece of her mind. She tiptoed further and further until her toes just about touched the edge of the pool of water that sat in a depression on the wall at the end of the cave. She could taste the water already. She could smell the freshness and coolness that she knew would refresh her thirst and the heat still trapped in her fur. She knelt down and prepared to scoop her hand into the pool to get a sip when her left ear twitched at the sound of a rumble. She turned to her left slowly as though she did not want to her even her bones squeaking, and her eyes followed the pattern of the cave wall until they fell across a shadowed mass lying on the ground near the pool's edge. It was large and had a number of sharp edges, definitely enough for Nohr to understand why Etti called it a monster.
The creature was covered in scales, appearing almost reptilian. Its bulky upper body sported equally thick arms with talons on the end of its four-fingered hands. It sported a faded yellow horn on its head and had scaly ears that flopped on the sides of its head. Legs with the same thickness as the arms were nestled tightly against the beast's torso and the end was connected by a beefy tail that wrapped around the rest of its body. Nohr tried to joke inside her mind about how that tail seemed big enough to try and hug, but that thought was startlingly interrupted by a snort from the beast turning in its sleep. Nohr, her breathing now shaking, stayed in her place wearily, hoping that Etti was already scooping up the water into her bags by now. She stayed as still as she could, trying hard to ignore the beating of her heart now pounding into her head. She turned another direction to find Etti finishing up filling her bags with water. Both girls looked into each other's eyes and gave a signal meant to tell each other that everything was working fine. Etti finished tying the bags of water closed and motioned for Nohr to follow her back out. Nohr carefully took light steps across the cavern floor and followed Etti back out to the cave's exit, where the light was. Both of them were just about home free, until Nohr was unfortunate enough to slip on a pebble.
The crackling sound of rolling stones prompted the beast's snoring to grow silent. Both girls froze, taking in the new situation they, or rather just Nohr, just got into. The beast, stirring and beginning to push itself off the ground, opened its eyes to reveal two pure red orbs that looked exactly like Etti's eyes, except they seemed to slightly glow. The beast's eyes widened upon spotting the two intruders just about past the opening. A loud snarl blared in the air, and the beast got on all fours, readying itself to charge at the thieving intruders. With a roar, the beast leapt off its resting spot and pranced towards Nohr.
"Run!" Etti hollered, breaking into a sprint herself with the bags of water bouncing around in her hand. Nohr wasted no time following her comrade, as she threw herself forward with her feet in tow, feeling just as much of a primal urge to get away from the creature that was about to attack her. Putting all her energy into her legs, she felt she could easily match Etti in a race, and in little time, both had jumped out of the cave and back into the outside, grateful for what little remained of the setting sun. She wasn't sure what she had heard, but in her mind, she swore she heard the guttural roar of the beast sound like articulate words, words that said 'Get away from my water, you thieves!'
"Did that beast just talk?" Nohr thought to herself as she hurried with Etti down the sand slopes away from the cave. Nohr wasn't sure about the notion, for the moment, she felt more relieved just to be heading back to the safety of the little village; she wouldn't admit it, but it felt like home more than everywhere else she had been. It had to be; back when she was just wandering through the desert, she could vividly remember herself slowly dying under the harsh sun. There was nothing green everywhere she looked, and there wasn't any back in her old home. But that fact alone was enough for Nohr to tell herself that she would prefer the village—even though there was no green and hardly any water to spare, there were still some people living there, with emphasis on 'living.' She could not recall how she felt when she wandered alone, but was confident that she didn't want to go back to that life.
When the duo got back to the village, the sun had just completely set, with the sky now changed from pale orange to deep blue. In the night sky was a moon, one that shone white in the form of a perfect circle as it hovered in its place. However, besides from that moon, there were no stars. Like the sun that preceded it, the moon had no company, having neither clouds nor stars but only itself as it stood across the dark and pristine sky. Nohr went back to Etti's hut while Etti put on a light. After making sure that Nohr could see well enough in the darkened hut, she went back outside to bring the water bags to the huts that housed her friends. Nohr, finally getting a chance to relax once again, was left alone with her thoughts.
She thought about the unforgiving state of the world, questioning about where everything went wrong that transformed her world from a land teeming with color, beauty, wonder, and life to a land with barely anything left, with even the world now out to destroy what little remained of its former glory. She had only heard of the old days from her mother, who would tell her those stories before going to sleep or simply to relieve boredom as they both sat under a rock waiting for the day to be over. Nohr wondered why her mother would even tell her true stories about a time that she could only imagine of; if she didn't see it, it couldn't be real. All Nohr ever knew was hardship: every day, she would either stay under the rock or be around the outside with her mother carefully picking at the few cacti that were scattered about, sipping for juice. The sun was always too hot, so she always stayed under the rock when she wasn't doing anything. When night came, there wasn't much to do anyways. With so little out there, all there was to do at that time was a little stroll across the cooling dunes that didn't go much further away from the rock. Every day had been the same for Nohr, until one day when she woke up by herself. She understood now, but back then, she didn't understand why it took so long for her mother to awaken. She remembered trying to wake her with every means she could think up, but she remained still. It took a while before Nohr decided her mother wasn't going to wake up at all, even thinking it was the reason there was only the two of them to begin with. Now that Nohr thought about it, she wondered if that had to do with the despondent stare she saw in her mother's eyes that grew more prominent as the days passed. She remembered her mother getting slower and more tired in her movements, struggling to even take a few sips from a drilled cactus. She remembered her forgetting to smile when she told a story, and even where she doesn't tell a story at all. "Perhaps she just missed the world of her stories," Nohr wondered aloud. "I know I've never been there, but I still wanted to see it for myself. Maybe mother really hated the desert but couldn't find a way out." Nohr then remembered staying for a little while longer after her mother didn't wake up. When the last cactus dried up and Nohr took her last drink, she knew for sure that her mother was gone and that there really was nothing left. With that revelation, Nohr stood up, left the shelter of the rock, and went forward over the dunes, hoping to find a new home with some new cacti.
Nohr never found a new rock with cacti as she hoped, but she did find a village of tumbleweeds with more company, which is where she got to meet Etti, her first friend in her entire life living in this nearly dead world she called a home. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Etti coming back into the hut, with the bags in her hand now only half-full of water. Etti sat down as soon as she put the bags away and gave a sigh of relief.
"That went well," she said, feeling ready to call it a night. "Everyone got their water, plenty of water for themselves." She then proceeded to pat Nohr on the shoulder. "You did great. Granted you did wake the monster, but we got away with what we needed. So I think you've officially made it up to me." Etti raised her hand and pointed towards the exit, to which Nohr turned around to notice. "You can go."
Nohr looked at the outside hesitantly. Etti had just told her she was free to go. Before that, she had no choice but to stay with the purple creature until she got back on her good side. Sure, Etti had just made her walk into a cave with a ferocious beast and nearly get herself killed, or at the very least, scared out of her wits, but she was still glad to have a roof over her head. Before Etti got angry at Nohr, she had given her water to drink, despite having been a complete stranger whom she had only just met. As harsh as Etti might have seemed, Nohr began thinking there was something better beyond a rock with cacti. Could this little community, one so tightly knit that it could be called family, be the one she was really after? Could she perhaps feel more comfortable in this village than the outside where only the elements reside?
Nohr turned back to face Etti. "Actually, I think I want to stay here instead, if you don't mind." Etti just blinked at what her furry friend had said.
"You want to stay?" Etti asked, bewildered. "Why would you want to stay here? I barely know you. I give you one sip of water and suddenly you're my sister?"
Nohr decided it was now or never. "Well, I thought about leaving after having helped you get the water you needed. I didn't want to be trapped simply because I got on your bad side." Nohr stopped for a moment to draw a breath. "To be honest, when I wandered in that desert, I thought I knew where I wanted to go. But now that I'm here, I realized I was just…lost."
Etti looked rather confused. Hearing that Nohr was once looking for a place to go, she spoke up. "Well, if you need to be somewhere, you can ask me and I could give you directions."
"No. I originally had a place to go, but spending time with you and your people made me change my mind," Nohr replied, determined to make it clear. "I've spent most of my life alone, just barely surviving with what little I had. I don't want to mean it like I'm mooching off you, but I feel like I prefer your company more."
Etti looked at Nohr with intent, as though she were studying the furry girl's intentions. "So you like it here?"
Nohr fidgeted a tiny bit before finding more in her heart to continue. "It was a long time ago, but I used to have a mother. I lived with her for my whole life, staying under a rock and drinking juice from cacti. Then one day, she was gone, and the world looked deader than it did before." She stayed silent when she said that, feeling burdened by the resurgence of an abandoned memory. "But when I ran into you, and then saw the rest of your kind, I felt different. Even though there were so few of you, you did whatever you could to live. Kids were playing, you and Jotu were risking your lives to get water for the rest so they can live another day…you really make me feel like the world hasn't ended yet."
Etti stayed silent, taking in every last detail Nohr had just told her. She still felt bewildered by Nohr's request to stay in her village. She wasn't even sure what to make of a stranger who looks completely different from her kind taking residence in the same place as where her kind live. It was just unexpected. "Well, thanks for the gratitude and heartfelt backstory," she responded to Nohr's words hesitantly, "but how can I be sure that this is the best thing for all of us?"
Nohr's body tensed, anxious at the possibility that she may be faced with a refusal. "What do you mean?"
"It's a lot harder than you think," Etti answered with a reluctant tone. "If there was one thing I knew about the world now, it's that death's always around the corner, and my people have seen lots of it." While she was talking she proceeded to open up a box that contained tiny grains. She took a few and puts some in her mouth, savoring every bite and chew she made. She offered some to Nohr, who meekly accepted, before she continued. "There were already a handful of us in the beginning. There were just enough of us that every hut in our village had someone living in it. But food and water got scarcer, and one by one, each of those who weren't so lucky stopped moving. We even had to give some of what we had left to the kids, with Ym and Fehn lasting the longest. Eventually, our best hope was a cave not far from where we were that had a fresh supply of water left, which would have been great if it weren't for a beast living there already. I trust you know what I mean."
Nohr was nibbling on another grain while she was listening. "Is there something you have against the beast that's the reason you're stealing water?" she asked.
"No," Etti responded in a bit of protest, "we take water from the beast's cave because that's the only water we can find in a whole lot of distance from here!" She huffed in exasperation, putting away her grain box. "We're just trying to stay alive, not be a bully." She looked down at the sand on her mat, which she rubbed over with her hand a few times. "It would've been great if the beast could share that water instead of hogging it all."
"I'm sure the beast has reasons for keeping that water," Nohr suggested, "that pool isn't very deep. It's probably almost a puddle now." But before she could go further, she found Etti facing her again with a staunch expression on her face.
"Reasons?" Etti growled, her voice blended between a whisper and a stifled shout. "What kind of reasons does a beast have for keeping water? Do you expect anything less from a feral monster that kills other creatures and looks only after himself?"
Nohr leaned back worriedly, afraid that she may have set Etti off again. But the purple-skinned female takes deep breaths and calms herself down. She shuts her eyes and rested her shoulders as she tried to think. Opening them again, she looked up and straight at Nohr, having now relaxed her face to a more caring expression. With a deep breath let out by a sigh, she spoke to Nohr, "You can stay here as long as you need to." Nohr's ears perked up when she heard this, and she looked at Etti with a hopeful expression. Etti continued, "But in return, as long as you're here, you get to be one of us. That means you get your fair share of tasks, let it be getting water, finding food, looking after the kids and Madam Skath, you know the deal…"
Nohr was already elated to hear she got to stay. She even brushed aside the possible difficulties that Etti had been implying with the tasks that she was already speaking to Etti shortly after. "Thank you," she cried, "thank you for letting me stay. I promise I'll do what I can to make life a little better for all of us."
Etti only needed to smirk to make it mutual. "Good, then it's settled." She turned away to place some flat pieces of brush and padded it with some bits of thatch. "Here," she said to Nohr, presenting a makeshift bed. "It's not much, but you'll be able to get a good night's rest. After what you did, you deserve it." Nohr only smiled and crawled over to the bed before lying down on it. No sooner did she lay on her back on the thatch that she felt sleep close in on her. Her eyes closed before long and she drifted away, with a look of peace on her face. Seeing her satisfaction, Etti lied down on her own mat, and with a bowl placed over the light, all was silent for the rest of the night.
A lulling darkness was all that was present, even as everyone's minds were unknowingly swimming through the sensationless void that surrounded every inch of their own awareness. Yet at the same time, there was something colorful about where a person was in the void. Nohr was sure all she saw was blackness, but at the same time, she could still feel the warmth of the desert sand, the taste of cactus juice and water, the faint howl of the wind, and other sensations that reminded her of the world she lived in now. She could almost float within this nothingness forever, not having to worry about the hardships of what the next day would bring, but for some reason, she felt herself forced back into the light. With a groan, her eyes pulled themselves opened against her will, and Nohr now found herself lying awake on her straw-padded bed staring at the roof of the hut. She sat up slowly and looked around to find everything still quite dark. Peeking outside the hut, she could see that the sky was still dim with the moon just about to sink below the horizon and the sun just following upwards above it. Thinking that it wouldn't hurt to move around a bit, Nohr decided to have a stroll around the village. She felt confident that she wouldn't get lost among the sparse settlement of huts that sat in the only space among the dunes. Going around each individual hut, she thought about how lucky she was to be there and how lucky Etti was to still have some of her people around to live with her. The thought that one wouldn't know what they had until it was gone hovered around her mind; she knew it was true the moment her mother was unable to go on anymore; she knew it was true the moment she learned the fate of the majority of Etti's people. The more she thought about it, the more she did not want to see anyone die, for there have been so few already and huts were empty. She still thought about how amazed she was that the young ones were able to try and have fun even in these desolate times.
As quickly as she had taken a stroll around a few huts, Nohr's ears flicked at the sound of sand rustling somewhere close. She ran behind a hut and stayed for a moment before peaking around to find the source of the noise. Her eyes widened with shock as her gaze fell upon a familiar scaled form lurking around the huts. "The beast from yesterday," she whispered soundlessly to herself, bracing for something unpleasant. She kept her eyes on where the beast was while keeping behind the hut where she was hiding. She could see him poking his head into the huts and then leaving them, looking disgruntled. "Please don't let there be anyone in those huts," Nohr prayed silently. The last thing she wanted was for the beast to find someone and hurt them. But somewhere inside, she felt that the beast would not leave until he checked every hut, so she knew it was a matter of time before he did discover a person. Knowing she had to act now, she thought there was no other way to get the beast away without hurting herself or worse, so she did the next best thing.
"Hey!" she shouted, jumping out from the cover of the hut. "Over here!"
The beast turned his head over to see a familiar furry creature running and jumping up and down, flailing her arms. "You," he snarled, his claws digging into the sand. With a guttural roar, he lunged away from the hut he was just examining and lunged after Nohr, taking large leaps as he went after one of the two creatures who stole his water. Nohr only focused on outrunning the reptilian beast as fast as her legs could carry her across the shifty sand. With all traces of her tiredness gone, she turned briefly to try kicking some sand into the beast's eyes and dashed around to hide behind another hut. The beast, startled by the sudden blindness, shook his head clean of dust and looked around for Nohr, the expression of anger still etched on his face. Nohr, on the other hand, was sitting down and curled up, trying not to make a sound. She stayed still for a while, hoping to hold out until the beast went away to search somewhere else. After a little while, there was only silence. Nohr checked warily and then got back on her feet. She turned to carefully leave the hut, and was forced to duck as a claw suddenly ripped through the thatch and swiped over her head. Nohr fell on her front and rolled onto her back to face the beast towering above her, stomping towards her in a threatening position. Nohr scrambled away in fear. Her hands were grappling at the sand and her feet were digging into the sand as they rapidly pushed her backwards, desperately putting distance between her and the beast.
Both the beast and Nohr rapidly turned their heads to find Etti charging towards the fray. Etti, exerting as much force as her body could allow, tossed a rock at the beast's face. The beast howled in pain when the rock collided with his cheek, but stifled that howl as he now turned his anger towards her, the second member of the two thieves who stole his water only a day ago. He lunged himself off the sound and charged towards Etti, not aware that he was being followed from behind. Out of nowhere, another rock struck the beast on his back, and before he could turn, he was tackled by another fellow purple-skinned creature. Etti took no time to know that Jotu had come to her aid. The beast shook violently, trying to dislodge Jotu who was grappling the spines on his back. Taking advantage of the distraction, Etti pushed herself until she rammed into the beast, knocking him onto his back, to which Jotu leapt away. Etti and Jotu both ran away from the beast while Etti helped Nohr back on her feet.
"Are you okay?" Etti asked Nohr, catching her breath. The furry female was still shuddering from her close encounter with the ferocious creature, but was adequately relieved when witnessing Etti and her comrade take him head on.
"I am, thanks to you." Nohr answered, the shakiness still remaining in her voice. They both looked back to see the beast getting back on his feet. As he was recovering, Etti took Nohr by her wrist.
"We need to go now," Etti said under her breath. She went one direction while pulling Nohr along. But as they ran around a hut and slid down the slope to get to the other side, they were blocked by the furious beast. Nohr trembled in fear, too panicked to see a way around. Etti was just as clueless, but raised her arm in front of Nohr as she braced for the beast's attack. Before the beast could do that however, a yell pierced the air. The three looked the yell's direction to find a frightened Fehn looking straight at the beast, eyes widened in fear. She was already being shielded by Ym who got to her first after hearing her yell. The beast stared at the two children for a moment, with Nohr and Etti apprehensive that he was going to move in on them, but the beast turned his attention back to the two females, his anger remaining focused against them. Without further hesitation, he lunged at them both, causing the two girls to shut their eyes in anticipation of their demise. The beast appeared to block out the rising sun as he readied his claws, but the blow never came. Out of nowhere, Jotu came back and rammed himself into the beast's side, knocking him over once again. When the beast got back up and saw who knocked him down, he was angered once again, as Jotu had also taken water from him before. Jotu stood with his back facing Etti and Nohr with a rock in his hand, prepared to defend these two living people to the death. The beast snarled as he looked over the gathered three carefully, taking careful steps on all four of his limbs.
"What is going on here?"
The tension was suddenly interrupted by the crackling holler that resounded with an aged tone. The cry belonged to no other than the village's eldest, Madam Skath. It was apparent that she had come out of her hut upon hearing the commotion. In fact, it was unexpected for Etti. Madam Skath almost never left her hut, let alone of her own free will. As she was getting older, it was harder for her to move around and do the things around the village as she used to. With life having become more difficult, she had to rely on Etti and Jotu in order to help the rest survive the harsh desert, and she had eventually been left to sit alone with her thoughts. But now the sight of seeing her trying to walk outside her hut and succeeding had gotten Etti astounded, thinking that the old lady had not gotten that weak after all.
"Is that…" Madam Skath quietly gasped, her eyes having met the ones belonging to the beast. Her eyes widened, but she wasn't fearful. Instead, she was almost curious. Etti felt like putting the elder back in her hut instead of trying to talk sense into her, but did not get the chance as she heard her continue speaking. "Another living creature," Madam Skath observed. "I thought we were alone out here."
The beast only looked at the elder, having lost his enraged drive and replaced it with a feeling of confusion. "An elder," he spoke, prompting everyone to listen to him as though he had never spoken before. "First, two children and now an elder?" He turned his head to Etti, who was still shielding Nohr from him warily. Etti could feel his gaze on her, feeling as though he was prompting her to answer him.
"Y-yeah, what of it?" Etti responded, maintaining her look of defiance. "We have two kids and an old lady to take care of, and they need water, which we get because we have to."
Nohr took an opportunity to peek from behind Etti. "You know," she whispered into her ear, "you could have just asked nicely." But she ended up getting a little tap from Etti, being given the message that she wasn't helping the situation.
"So that's why you take the water," the beast said, not taking his eyes off any of the people surrounding him. "All this time, I thought I was alone, and then you come along and start taking the last of the water left in the world, only because you were looking after others like you." The beast then sat down, which surprised everyone, especially Etti since she was tense the entire time. To see this ferocious creature relax in front of everyone was unexpected, and Etti felt herself ease up and drop her arm, allowing Nohr to relax as well. "I hate people who do bad things," said the beast, "but I don't want to hurt people who help others try to live." He turned to look at Nohr and Etti, who flinched slightly at the gaze. "I'm…sorry for not understanding you," he said in a gentler tone, but then switched back to one slightly aggressive, "but don't steal from me again."
"I said you should've asked," Nohr whispered to Etti again, feeling a little smugger about it. It only got funnier when Etti did not defend herself this time, only resorting to rolling her eyes with displeasure. Sensing an opportunity to end this problem, Nohr stepped out from Etti's shadow and walked carefully towards the beast, now in a placid state. "We're very sorry we took something from you that didn't belong to us," she spoke, "but if you know we meant no harm, why are you here?"
The beast looked warily at the furry creature, aware that she was not like the rest. "I am here because…the water is gone." There was a collection of gasps from everyone, but that didn't stop the beast from continuing. "The cave collapsed. I barely escaped with my life, but now everything is buried. I came here looking for a new home, though I did not know this was already your home."
"The water's…gone?" Etti parroted in a daze. Her eyes looked exceptionally down. "So there's nothing left for us now?" The beast did not answer her.
"Well," Madam Skath spoke up, making everyone turn their attention to her. "We can always help dig it back up. With your strength plus Etti and Jotu's here, we should be able to salvage what's left of it. Come to think of it, how did your cave come to have water?"
The beast replied with only a straightforward tone. "To be truthful, I did not simply find this water. While I stayed in the cave, I dug a hole for a place to sleep and happened to find water soaking out of the ground. When I found it, I was so glad to have water again, and I defended it while believing this cave was the only place where water remains…until now."
"Well," Nohr interjected. "If we can dig out the cave, we can dig it some more and find more water underneath." Etti looked at her with confusion, as though she was giving the impression of thinking her furry acquaintance was crazy. Nohr noticed it and assured her friend, "It's worth a shot." She whispered apprehensively under her breath, "we can't give up," knowing that the mother she loved had done so already. She saw Etti still looking at her with doubt. "I know what I'm doing," she tried assuring her friend, "if he does something out of the ordinary, you can deal with him." Etti raised her hands and walked off, seeing what she can do to help.
Nohr turned to the beast, who now sat in the sand, only looking out in the distance. She considered her decision, but then went towards him. "So," she began, "were you always alone?"
The beast looked at her. "I have never known another fellow creature like me. I have survived with what I could do on my own."
"Well, if you want, you can live here," Nohr suggested, "it's not so bad once you get to know everyone." She sighed, "the company and what they have is better than out there."
The beast stayed silent, not answering her. Nohr looked up at him, afraid that he may refuse. He spoke, "I will consider it." Nohr was breathing a sigh of relief, which was interrupted by him speaking again, "But only because you apologized." This made Nohr smile defensively. Nohr observed Etti, Jotu, and even the kids getting ready at their own insistence, and shortly saw the beast get up to return with them to his cave as well.
Deciding to get one last bit of proper introduction with the scaly giant before joining the others, she shouted after him, "I'm Nohr! What's your name?"
Without looking back, he answered, "I am Goren." The two then followed the rest back to the cave as the sun fully rose above the horizon.